We need something that will completely cover up nicotine stains. The previous owner smoked in the house for probably 30-40 years before we bought it. The walls in the living room are severely stained. They are supposed to be white but appear more yellow than white

We initially bought a large amount of white paint at a cheaper price to paint every room in the house to just get fresh coats on the walls and decided we would add color to each room as we had the time/money. We thought this would be a good way to have everything fresh, and we got white ceiling paint as well.

However, when we painted in the dining rom and bathroom, nicotine began oozing out I a bubble like manner.

I realize I need to do something to deal with the staining before I paint again. Is there something out there better or safer than Kilz? I have a young child and don't want toxins in the house. Are there organic products that will solve this, but that do not contain VOCs or other dangerous substances?

  • 4
    Remove drywall, place in dumpster, replace drywall, paint.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 22, 2015 at 15:29
  • @Ecnerwal that is a cheeky response, but a valid one. Nicotine stains is one of the hardest things to get rid of. Sep 24, 2015 at 20:26
  • Hey @markham. I was wondering how this process went? Were you able to remove the stains/odor? Aug 23, 2017 at 19:59
  • In case of only light nicotine staining you could sand it down with a sandpaper (grain of 80 or 120) and then prime/ground the walls and paint them..
    – iLuvLogix
    Jul 6, 2021 at 13:28

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure you'll find a product to seal stains without any VOCs, especially if you want an organic paint. The organic solvents in paint must evaporate to leave the coating on walls. The fact that they evaporate at room temperatures, by definition, means they are volatile, hence Volatile Organic Compound (VOC). The least harmful stain blocker my be a shellac primer. Its basic components are resin produced by bugs and alcohol (the drinking kind). It will seal the stains and keep them from bleeding through to the top coat probably better than Kilz. You will need to have good ventilation while the alcohol evaporates, though. Shellac primer does a good job of sealing, but it doesn't have much any pigments in it, so you may need two finish coats (which you will probably need anyway).

  • A shellac product will be the least objectionable in terms of odor and after the alcohol is gone, there is nothing left to offgas. I personally only have experience with Zerolac. It dried very fast, and had no odor after it dried. You just need to ensure adequate ventilation during application.. by adequate ventilation, I'm talking about some big air movers or large fans arranged in a push pull fashion in windows or doors on opposite sides of the building. Zerolac is titanium white, and if you can get good coverage on your surface, you just may be able to get by with one finish coat. Oct 8, 2014 at 22:12

The best non-toxic paint would be silicate mineral paint. Zero VOCs. It basically hardens to rock. The downside is that it needs a mineral-based substrate to adhere properly, like plaster, cementboard, skim-coated drywall, etc. There are some that can be painted on top of bare drywall or previously latex-painted surfaces with the use of a primer.

Here are some examples: http://romabio.com/products (not affiliated with this company)

Of course, If you "don't want toxins in the house," you've likely already lost that war. Unless your house is 100% built out of earth, masonry, metal, and solid timber, it is likely already full of toxic chemicals.

For example: chemical-soaked pressure-treated lumber was likely used for your walls' sill plates. There may be petrochemical foam insulation. Formaldehyde is used as a glue in the plywood or OSB used to sheathe the walls, and in any furniture, flooring, or trim carpentry that makes use of plywood or MDF. The plywood or OSB sheathing is wrapped in plastic sheeting or tar-soaked paper. You've got VOCs in every layer of latex paint on every surface. Carpeting is almost all synthetic and off-gasses all kinds of garbage for quite a while. If the house has been treated for termites (and it should be if it's made of wood), that stuff is a toxic chemical.



The nicotine/tar will keep seeping through the walls until the there is nothing left to seep out. Or you can put a stain blocking primer up to seal it in.

Both Kilz and Zinsser (big box store) and most of the paint stores have low VOC stain blockers. You will need to prep the walls first, clean with TSP, light sand and wipe down. Once you have the primer up then use a low VOC paint. Even low VOC paints stink for a couple of days but it is no way near as bad as the normal.

Paint in no way is 'organic', the best you can hope for environmentally friendly. Having low VOC's help.

  • I'm confused. Did the OP mean organic as in a chemical with molecules containing carbon atoms or the other "whatever you want it to mean" definition of organic? From my understanding all but some latex paints are organic.
    – Edwin
    Oct 8, 2014 at 16:19
  • 1
    I'm assuming it's the no man made chemicals definition of organic.
    – diceless
    Oct 8, 2014 at 16:22
  • I can't keep up. I went to an "Organic Dry Cleaner". They were trying to sell their process as environmentally friendly by calling it organic. I found out that they used Perc as their solvent which, I can't argue with them, is an organic compound. :)
    – Edwin
    Oct 8, 2014 at 16:28
  • Yah I know, but is why I put '' around organic in my answer. To the science community organic compound is anything that contains carbon (some exceptions). And to the environmental community, it is no man made compounds (in which the vast majority are actually organic compounds).
    – diceless
    Oct 8, 2014 at 16:45
  • 1
    You realize that paint itself is a man made compound right?
    – CodeRedick
    Oct 8, 2014 at 16:57

Being painting contractors, we run into this problem often. We use shellac as a primer, which helps eliminate some of the off-gassing from the tobacco toxins embedded in the surfaces to be painted. Then we add the ionic paint additive from Air-ReNu, eliminates any further odor or toxin problems.


The painted surfaces and wallboard are porous, allowing the smoke molecules and odors to become embedded, in the walls, ceilings, carpeting, and furniture. With any temperature or humidly change the embedded odors and particles reemerge creating unhealthy air quality.
Out-gassing (sometimes called off-gassing, particularly when about indoor air quality) is the release of a gas that has dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in some material. Out gassing can include sublimation and evaporation, which are phase transitions of a substance into a gas, as well as desorption, seepage from cracks or internal volumes and gaseous products of slow chemical reactions. We found using Seal Krete or shellac as a primer that only one coat of paint is required saving time and money. Both Shellac and Seal Krete has the viscosity of water use a short nap roller and do not overload as it will run on the surface. If you chose to use a sealer or shellac as a primer, when you're ready to paint use paint with built in primer, higher viscosity than regular paint, thus only one coat. Now you’re ready to paint, add the ionic paint additive to the paint, turns the wall surface into a permanent air purification system

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